Translation and Reception of Modern International Law in China: A Comparative Perspective with Japan

Event date
17 November 2023
Event time
14:00 - 15:00
Oxford week
MT 6
Members of the University
Law Board Room - St Cross Building

 Zhou Yuan, Associate Professor, Toyo University


Modern international law was formed from theological and jurisprudential thinking on ius gentium and international practice by the emerging nation-states in early modern Europe and then spread worldwide as a result of the expansion and colonialism of the European powers. When reached East Asia, it inevitably came into conflict with the traditional view of world order centred on China, which ultimately collapsed at the end of the 19th century due to the sustained use of force and diplomatic pressure from the European powers and China's decisive defeat from Japan (1895).

This presentation examines the process and scale of the translation and diffusion of international legal writings, especially Wanguo Gongfa (a classical Chinese translation of Henry Wheaton's Elements of International Law), in China during the late Qing dynasty. It also analyses the impact of the accepted knowledge of international law on Chinese diplomatic practice. Lastly, it investigates the causes of China's failure to accept international law in the late Qing period by comparing it with Japan, which at the same time actively accepted Western law, revised unequal treaties and finally embarked on an ambitious path of overseas expansion.


Photo of Zhou Yuan

Zhou Yuan is an associate professor of European legal history and history of legal thought at the Faculty and the Graduate School of Law, Toyo University (Tokyo), and is currently an academic visitor at the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford. She started legal studies at Hitsubashi University (Tokyo) and received an LL.D. degree from the same university with a thesis on theories establishing international law in early modern Europe.

One of her research interests is accepting modern international law and transforming the traditional international order in East Asia from the latter half of the 19th century. Her works relating to this topic have been published in Japanese books and journals such as East Asian Kingship and Social Order in a Comparative Context (Kyuko-Shoin, 2021), Introduction to Chinese Law (Minerva Shobo, 2021), and Institutional History of Law and Culture (Shinzansha, Sep. 2022).

Found within

Public International Law